Companies selected to grow medical marijuana in Arkansas are on track to have their product ready for consumption by next April.
Representatives of the five companies approved to cultivate medicinal cannabis spoke to members of the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission at a commission meeting Wednesday. Of the five companies, two say they expect to harvest their first batch of marijuana by early spring.
Aside from time for construction and growing the plants, ongoing investigations by the division of Alcoholic Beverage Control Enforcement appear to be the only obstacles for companies beginning to grow cannabis.
ABC Enforcement Director Boyce Hamlet said allegations by unsuccessful applicants of scoring inconsistencies and corruption on the part of commissioners aren’t likely to result in any action against commissioners or approved cultivators.
"Part of the problem with some of these [complaints] is they’re asking us to look into something that’s subjective," Hamlet said. "There’s nothing we can really do about that. The grade was pretty subjective and you [commissioners] graded how you graded."
Hamlet said about 15 formal complaints have been lodged, though only eight will be investigated. ABC Enforcement only has authority to investigate claims that successful applicants provided false information on their applications.
Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees the medical marijuana program, said he expects the investigations to be resolved soon.
"I think what you saw today is [Hamlet] said, ‘Look, some of these things are just outside of our scope. We simply can’t investigate why a certain score was applied on one application versus another,'" Hardin said. "Likely what you’re going to see is those protests dismissed over the coming days."
Arkansas Department of Health Chief Counsel Laura Shue briefed commissioners on the demographics of the state’s 6,457 patients approved to use medical marijuana so far. 88 percent are white, 8 percent are African-American and 4 percent are another race, she said.
Patients are almost evenly split by gender, with approved patients being 51 percent male and 49 percent female. Most patients have conditions commonly treated with medicinal cannabis, like post-traumatic stress disorder and osteoarthritis.
The highest number of patients, 31 percent, have intractable pain that’s unresponsive to traditional medication and surgery for over six months. So far, 18 conditions are approved to be treated with medical marijuana in Arkansas, and more can be added in the coming years.
Aside from investigations, state laws governing marijuana — which remains illegal at the federal level — are causing problems for one approved grower. Delta Medical Cannabis Company’s planned facility was deemed too close to Arkansas State University’s Campus in Newport, in violation of the state’s medical marijuana amendment prohibiting growing marijuana within 3,000 feet of a school, church or daycare.
Commission members voted to delay considering the company’s request to move its facilities until Attorney General Leslie Rutledge gives an opinion on the law. DFA spokesman Hardin said an opinion is expected before the commission’s next meeting Dec. 19, when commissioners will award dispensary permits to 32 successful applicants.